by The Traveling Winers
What do you get when you combine a North Dakota farm boy, a world traveler to France and Napa, and an astrophysicist? Well, you get Don Hagge of Vidon Vineyard, of course, and an interesting story to boot. The Traveling Winers had the opportunity to chat with the young man, all of 85 years old, in his tasting room in Newberg, Oregon. It was fascinating listening to all the experiences that have shaped his life. What an adventure!
Don’s Path to Wine
We’re going to pick the story up with Don is his early adulthood. After spending two years in the Navy serving his country in Korea, Don’s next move was to the halls of UC Berkley to begin his education in engineering. It wasn’t long before that he had a chance meeting with Noble Peace Prize winner and nuclear physicist Ernest Lawrence and was inspired to change his course of study. Don went on to get his Ph.D. in physics, studied business at Stanford, and completed post-graduate work at Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory and the Centre d’Etude Physiques Nucleare in Paris.
Where is the wine in all this, you ask? Patience, patience. We’re getting there. We just have a few more accolades to share. And it’s worth the wait!
Are you into acronyms? Do the letters NASA mean anything to you? Well, of course they do. And they did to Don too. He started his career at NASA at the Goddard Space Flight Center designing experiments for the Explorer satellite program to measure solar and galactic cosmic radiation. As if this weren’t enough, Don then goes on to become the Cheif of Physics at the Manned Space Flight Center (now Johnson Space Center) for the Apollo program where he continued in this position from Apollo 7 through the Apollo 13. Heck, he has even got three wine labels with the reference.
Okay, okay, enough already, right?! Well, actually there is more, but we will skip the next couple of decades where Don delved into the high-tech industry as well as founded a company that developed BNCT – boron neutron capture therapy – a treatment for brain tumors. Never to be one to stop, and falling back onto his farm boy upbringing and love of Pinot acquired during his stay in France, Don went on to a completely different path for his so-called “retirement career”….grape farming and winemaking. At 69, Don and his wife Vicki (hence Vidon…smart man, putting his wife first!) purchased the land in Newberg, Oregon and began planting their vineyard.
Efficiency is the Word
Another puzzle for you. What do you get when you combine a scientist, a physicist, a businessman, and a farmer? You get a very efficient winery, for sure! And we’re off with the list of Don’s inventions and processes to this end.
Argon dispensing system: Don developed an argon dispensing system specifically for his winery that extends the life of his open bottles. The argon gas pushes the wine out and protects it from coming in contact with oxygen thereby keeping the freshness for up to two weeks. Don jokes, “it really pisses off my tasting bar staff!” referring to the fact that they no longer get to drink the open bottles for fear that they will go bad.
Early ripening rootstock: Don says that he chose this type rootstock in the beginning intentionally. He figured that it might be difficult to get labor for harvesting if everyone was looking to harvest at the same time. So, being the ever efficient engineer that he was, he thought “why not get ahead of the game?” by planting early ripening rootstock. He told us that his plan worked but he also discovered that it came with even more advantages than he anticipated. Apparently, with the grapes ripening just a bit earlier than would happen with different rootstock, his vineyards have never had a problem with birds and therefore no netting is needed. This, of course, saves money and time. Don goes on to say that he also beats the rain each and every year, once again saving crops and therefore money.
Glass stoppers and flex tanks: Once again, both more efficient methods according to Don, yielding the same high quality as traditional methods of cork stoppers and wooden barrels. Listen as Don tells his reasoning:
The bottom line straight from Don: “Part of what you learn as a scientist is to be systematic. I always try to figure out how to do
things better and more efficiently.”
A New Kind of Wine Club
One final “new way of doing things” from Don is a new way of running a wine club. Vidon currently has a wine club… “of sorts”. Don told us that he used to have a very successful club with nearly 800 members, but at some point, it became too cumbersome and fraught full of issues. He then went to his current model where folks can buy what they want when they want. He developed the online software where customers can register for an account, see what they purchase and then receive rewards into their account. If they spend a certain amount they get a certain % off. Spend more, get more off. It is as simple as that.
But Don really wants to take wine clubs to an even different level. He calls his model Vin Alliance. We just have to say that The Traveling Winers think this model is brilliant and hope that it comes to pass. Listen as Don explains.
Although we did try some whites (Elizabeth fell in love with the Viognier!), our main focus was on the different clones of Pinot Noir. Don poured us the flight in a very systematic way (big surprise, huh?!) that really aided in our learning. First, he poured this order for the 2013 vintage and then he did the same for 2014.
3- clones – This wine is a 1/3 combination of each of the Pinot clones below. Each clone brings different characteristics to the wine, thereby giving the 3-Clones a more layered and complex structure. This wine brings aromas of strawberries, vanilla and white pepper and a nice balance of vanilla, oak and fruitiness to the palate.
Brigita Clone 777 – This clone brings more of the dark fruit to the table, such as jammy blackberries and spice.
Mirabelle Clone 115 – Clone 115 contributes raspberries and boysenberries to the mix, with just a hint of oak.
Hans Clone Pommard – The Pommard clone seems to be the Big Brother in the lot providing a big, long finish with the richness of dark plum, leather, vanilla and oak.
There were two big take-a-ways from this experience.
First, by tasting in this fashion it becomes more clear how a Pinot can be different than another Pinot. In Oregon, especially, you taste Pinot after Pinot after Pinot and unless you can appreciate the subtle nuances from each and why you might like one more than the other, we dare to say, it might get a bit repetitive. But, oh boy! When you get it, it makes all the difference!
Second, by tasting the two vintages side-by-side, it was like a lightbulb turning on. The 2014 was much more tannic and jammier where the 2013 had fewer tannins and more red fruit aroma and flavors. How does this variance happen? The growing season variations. Oregon wine country in 2014 had a much longer growing season. The fruit stayed on the vines longer, therefore, saw more sun and were able to ripen more fully. The more Pinot grapes ripen, the darker their fruit flavors become (think longer to “cook” in the sun) and more tannins are formed in the skins. See? Wasn’t that interesting, hearing us geek out on wine?
**Pictures 3,4 courtesy of Vidon Vineyard.
The Winer’s Experience
|AMBIANCE||GROUNDS & SCENERY||TASTING ROOM|
|Very casual, laid back and fun atmosphere||Right in the middle of the farm and vineyard.||Small tasting room and small tasting bar. Not much space for a large group of folks, but with the tasting room being an open concept to the outdoors there is plenty of room to mill about. The tasting room is also located directly with the production facility so quite interesting as you are right in the middle of all the production activity.|
|WINE TASTING EXPERIENCE||CUSTOMER SERVICE||TECHNICAL KNOWLEDGE|
|If you get Don as your host you are in for a real treat. He will educate the pants off you and in a fun way. You will leave with loads of new knowledge.||They are more than accommodating here and just want you to have a good time and leave a little more educated about wine than when you walked in.||In this particular case, this makes us laugh! I mean, REALLY?! He is an astrophysicist, for goodness sakes!|
Vineyard & Winery Information
|Vidon Vineyard||17425 NE Hillside Dr., Newberg, OR 97132|
|Fri – Sun 11 am – 4 pm|
|MUSIC||WINE CLUB||TASTING FEE|
|No||Of sorts (see above)||$20 (waived with $100 purchase)|
|No (perhaps by special request 🙂||No|